Paul Klee

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The main thing now is not to paint precociously but to be, or at least become, an individual. The art of mastering life is the prerequisite for all further forms of expression, whether they are paintings, sculptures, tragedies, or musical compositions.

Paul Klee (December 18 1879June 29 1940) was a Swiss painter of German nationality. He was influenced by many different art styles in his work, including expressionism, cubism and surrealism, and had influence on Kandinsky when they were both teaching at the Bauhaus.

Quotes[edit]

When looking at any significant work of art, remember that a more significant one probably has had to be sacrificed.
To emphasize only the beautiful seems to me to be like a mathematical system that only concerns itself with positive numbers.
Nature can afford to be prodigal in everything, the artist must be frugal down to the last detail.
The more horrifying this world becomes, the more art becomes abstract; while a world at peace produces realistic art.
It is interesting to observe how real the object remains, in spite of all abstractions.
We construct and keep on constructing, yet intuition is still a good thing.
  • My mirror probes down to the heart. I write words on the forehead and around the corners of the mouth. My human faces are truer than the real ones.
    • Diary entry (Munich, 1901), # 136, The Diaries of Paul Klee, 1898-1918 [University of California Press, 1968, ISBN 0-520-00653-4] (p. 48)
  • The main thing now is not to paint precociously but to be, or at least become, an individual. The art of mastering life is the prerequisite for all further forms of expression, whether they are paintings, sculptures, tragedies, or musical compositions.
    • Diary entry (3 June 1902), # 411
  • When looking at any significant work of art, remember that a more significant one probably has had to be sacrificed.
    • Diary entry (December 1904), # 583
  • The beautiful, which is perhaps inseparable from art, is not after all tied to the subject, but to the pictorial representation. In this way and in no other does art overcome the ugly without avoiding it.
    • Diary entry (December 1905), # 733
  • To emphasize only the beautiful seems to me to be like a mathematical system that only concerns itself with positive numbers.
    • Diary entry (March 1906), # 759, The Diaries of Paul Klee, 1898-1918
  • He has found his style, when he cannot do otherwise, i.e., cannot do something else.
    • Diary entry (Munich, 1908), # 825, The Diaries of Paul Klee, 1898-1918 (p. 227)
  • Nature can afford to be prodigal in everything, the artist must be frugal down to the last detail.
    Nature is garrulous to the point of confusion, let the artist be truly taciturn.
    • Diary entry (Munich, 1909), # 857, The Diaries of Paul Klee, 1898-1918 (p. 236)
  • All the things an artist must be: poet, explorer of nature, philosopher!
    • Diary entry (Spring 1911), # 895
  • These are primitive beginnings in art, such as one usually finds in ethnographic collections or at home in one's nursery. Do not laugh, reader! Children also have artistic ability, and there is wisdom in their having it! The more helpless they are, the more instructive are the examples they furnish us; and they must be preserved from corruption at an early age. Parallel phenomena are provided by the works of the mentally diseased; neither childish behaviour nor madness are insulting words here, as they commonly are. All this is to be taken very seriously, more seriously than all the public galleries, when it comes to reforming today's art.
    • Diary entry (January 1912), # 905, quoting his "Munich Art Letter" in the journal Die Alpen
  • Colour possesses me. It will always possess me. That is the meaning of this happy hour: colour and I are one. I am a painter.
    • Diary entry Tunisia, (16 April 1914), # 926
  • The evening is deep inside me forever. Many a blond, northern moonrise, like a muted reflection, will softly remind me and remind me again and again. It will be my bride, my alter ego. An incentive to find myself. I myself am the moonrise of the south.
  • The more horrible this world (as today, for instance), the more abstract our art, whereas a happy world brings forth an art of the here and now.
    • Diary entry (1915), # 951
    • Variant: The more horrifying this world becomes (as it is these days) the more art becomes abstract; while a world at peace produces realistic art.
    • Variant: The more horrifying this world becomes, the more art becomes abstract; while a world at peace produces realistic art. This was quoted in the speech "Between Two Ages: The Meaning Of Our Times" by Wm. Van Dusen Wishard
  • Polyphonic painting is superior to music in that there, the time element becomes a spatial element. The notion of simultaneity stands out even more richly.
    • Statement of 1917, as quoted in Abstract Art (1990) by Anna Moszynska, p. 96
  • We document, explain, justify, construct, organize: these are good things, but we do not succeed in coming to the whole ... But we may as well calm down: construction is not absolute. Our virtue is this: by cultivating the exact we have laid the foundations for a science of art, including the unknown X.
    • Statement of 1917, as quoted in Teaching at the Bauhaus (2000) by Rainer Wick and Gabriele Diana Grawe, p. 231
  • Everything vanishes around me, and works are born as if out of the void. Ripe, graphic fruits fall off. My hand has become the obedient instrument of a remote will.
    • Diary entry (January/February 1918), # 1104, The Diaries of Paul Klee, 1898-1918 (p. 387)
  • Diesseitig bin ich gar nicht fassbar. Denn ich wohne grad so gut bei den Toten, wie bei den Ungeborenen. Etwas näher dem Herzen der Schöpfung als üblich. Und noch lange nicht nahe genug.
    • I cannot be grasped in the here and now. For I reside just as much with the dead as with the unborn. Somewhat closer to the heart of creation than usual. But not nearly close enough.
      • Exhibition catalogue, Galerie Goltz, Munich, published in the gallery's house journal Der Ararat (May 1920). These words were later used as Klee's epitaph.
    • Variant translation: I cannot be understood at all on this earth. For I live as much with the dead as with the unborn. Somewhat closer to the heart of creation than usual. But not nearly close enough.
      • As quoted in Paul Klee : His Work and Thought (1991) by Marcel Franciscono, p. 5
  • Color is primarily Quality. Secondly, it is also Weight, for it has not only color value but also brilliance. Thirdly, it is Measure, for besides Quality and Weight, it has its limits, its area, and its extent, all of which may be measured.

    Tone value is primarily Weight, but in its extent and its boundaries, it is also Measure.

    Line, however, is solely Measure.

    • "On Modern Art," lecture, Kunstverein, Jena (26 January 1924), trans. Paul Findlay in Paul Klee: On Modern Art (London, 1948)
  • It is interesting to observe how real the object remains, in spite of all abstractions.
    • Statement of mid-1920s, as quoted in Abstract Art (1990) by Anna Moszynska, p. 100
  • It is possible that a picture will move far away from Nature and yet find its way back to reality. The faculty of memory, experience at a distance produces pictorial associations.
    • Statement of mid-1920s, as quoted in Abstract Art (1990) by Anna Moszynska, p. 100
  • The longer a line, the more of the time element it contains. Distance is time whereas a surface is apprehended more in terms of the moment.
    • Exact Experiments in the Realm of Art (1927)
  • We construct and keep on constructing, yet intuition is still a good thing.
    • Statement of 1928, as quoted in Abstract Art (1990) by Anna Moszynska, p. 98
  • Art should be like a holiday: something to give a man the opportunity to see things differently and to change his point of view.
    • As quoted in the film Der Bauhaus, produced by TV-Rechte in Germany (1975)

Creative Credo (1920)[edit]

The pictorial work was born of movement, is itself recorded movement, and is assimilated through movement…
Things appear to assume a broader and more diversified meaning, often seemingly contradicting the rational experience of yesterday. There is a striving to emphasize the essential character of the accidental.
Creative Credo [Schöpferische Konfession] (1920)
  • Kunst gibt nicht das Sichtbare wieder, sondern macht sichtbar.
    • Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.
    • Section I
  • A tendency toward the abstract is inherent in linear expression: graphic imagery being confined to outlines has a fairy-like quality and at the same time can achieve great precision.
    • Section I
  • The pictorial work was born of movement, is itself recorded movement, and is assimilated through movement (eye muscles).
    • Section IV
  • Formerly we used to represent things visible on earth, things we either liked to look at or would have liked to see. Today we reveal the reality that is behind visible things, thus expressing the belief that the visible world is merely an isolated case in relation to the universe and that there are many more other, latent realities. Things appear to assume a broader and more diversified meaning, often seemingly contradicting the rational experience of yesterday. There is a striving to emphasize the essential character of the accidental.
    • Section V

Quotes about Klee[edit]

A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating...
  • A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.
  • Klee's idiosyncracies always remained somewhat beyond the law, as it were. For "genius is the defect in the system," stated the conscientious system builder, who knew that genius was the only thing that could neither be taught nor learned.
    • Karl Ruhrberg, in Art of the 20th century, Part 1 (2000), p. 116

External links[edit]

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